WASHINGTON —The U.S. Army will miss its goal to field the Dark Eagle Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon during the government’s fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, but is still aiming to deliver the capability by the end of the calendar year, according to the service’s acquisition chief.
The delay is due to the cancellation of a critical test of the Common Hypersonic Glide Body, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush told Defense News in a Sept. 18 interview. The scrapped test planned for this month was going to be “pretty close to an operational test” rather than a developmental test, he said.
“We still have a path with a follow up test to get to a fielded capability by the end of calendar 2023,” Bush said. “It is just what it is, I mean, fact of life, we’re not going to field something until we have some confidence that if soldiers are asked to go use it in combat that it’s going to work and be safe for them to use.”
“We’re finding problems,” Bush said. “It’s actually good we’re finding these.”
Hypersonic weapons are capable of flying faster than Mach 5 — or more than 3,836 miles per hour — and can maneuver between varying altitudes, making it difficult to detect. The C-HGB is made up of the weapon’s warhead, guidance system, cabling and thermal protection shield.
The U.S. is in a race to field the weapon capability as well as develop systems to defend against hypersonic missiles. China and Russia are each actively developing and testing hypersonic weapons.
The Army completed its delivery of the first hypersonic weapon capability to I Corps’ 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state two days ahead of its end of FY21 fielding deadline.
The service went from a blank piece of paper in March 2019 to delivering hardware in just over two years including a battering operations center, four transporter-erector-launchers and modified trucks and trailers that make up the ground equipment of Dark Eagle.
The day prior to the expected LRHW test, when pressed at the Defense News Conference on Sept. 6 in Arlington, Virginia, on what might happen should the Army experience a failed or canceled test this close to the fielding deadline, Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo said, while he couldn’t get into the specifics.
“I’m very confident in the program,” Camarillo said, adding that work to train and equip the first unit with the Dark Eagle capability is “going really, really well.”
A joint test between the Navy and Army, scheduled for March, was also canceled during pre-flight checks.
The Army has spent several years working with industry to build the industrial base for the hypersonic weapon glide body that will be used by both the service and the Navy because the domestic private sector had never built a hypersonic weapon. The service also separately produced launchers, trucks, trailers and the battle operation center necessary to put together the first weapon battery.
Lockheed Martin is the weapon system integrator for the Army’s hypersonic capability that will be launched from a mobile truck.
Dynetics, a Leidos company, was chosen to build the hypersonic glide body for the missile and has been building rounds, but Lt. Gen. Rob Rasch, the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office director, told Defense News last month, that while the service is conducting testing and production at the same time, it needs to be careful not to get too far into production of the rounds without having data from major tests to back up the design to avoid reworking already built hardware.
“We’re using the next test to help drive us to that next phase of production,” Rasch said.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.